Monday, March 01, 2021

Number 2500: Fearless Fosdick and Anyface, the man with the Plastic Man face

This adaptation for a comic book from the Li'l Abner comic strip starts with an interesting inside cover. (The same page appears in the next issue, #69, which was the last from Harvey Comics.) Al Capp, satirically speaking through Li'l Abner, goes after  those critics who complain about crime comic books. In my opinion Capp makes a common mistake, trying to answer the ardent comic book critics by using the argument that crime comics are no more dangerous than fairy tales or classic Edgar Allan Poe. The argument was doomed to fail. Far from seeing comic books as being akin to fairy tales or classics like Poe, the critics saw comic books as being aimed at children, and the publishers of comic books as being more like sleazy pornographers seducing the young.

In this issue of Li'l Abner, published by Harvey Comics before Al Capp and his brother, Elliott Caplin, started their own comic book company, Li’l Abner is obsessed with the “comical” strip, “Fearless Fosdick.” Lester Gooch, creator, writer and artist of Fosdick, has become mentally unstable, so much so that he is hiding in the broom closet of an asylum, drawing his strip. As a devoted Fosdick fan, Abner sits outside the door and a pretty nurse supplies him with the daily newspaper funnies and Abner’s favorite strip.

It is dark humor, but is it like a crime comic book? It appeared first in newspapers, with their internal censorship of anything that might bring down the wrath of their readers. Syndicate editors had to approve it before sending it to client newspapers. In the story Fosdick shoots a man who is standing with his wife and children (see the panel on top of this page), mistaking the dad for the villain Anyface. In the story there are at least a couple more panels with bullets going through heads, typical for a Fearless Fosdick episode. Capp was satirizing the Dick Tracy comic strip. Tracy creator Chester Gould’s narratives usually have the heroes escape the death traps, and the criminals aren’t incarcerated, but they usually end up dead before ever going to court, or prison.

I think Anyface, stretching out his face and able to make himself look like someone else, is inspired by Jack Cole and Plastic Man.

From Li'l Abner #68 (1949):


drk said...

good one. the added solution is funny and interesting, but i think it's funnier without the solution.


Daniel [] said...

For some reason, the number 69 figures twice in this story, first as a precinct number and then as a count of alleged suspects.

Brian Barnes said...

This works surprisingly well. Normally when you lampoon another person in your same field it's hard to not seem vindictive about it (which kills comedy dead, like a lot of the characters in this thing!) but this is pretty funny with some really good gags, but maybe a bit lengthy in places.

Really good handle on different styles, too.

Ernol K. Sammybeans said...

Awesome up! The Fearless Fosdick trade paperback from the 1990s left out a lot of this story, so it's nice to see the whole thing.

Pappy said...

Ernol, I missed that trade paperback from the '90s! I have at least one Fearless Fosdick paperback, but it doesn't have this story. Thanks for the heads-up.

Pappy said...

drk, I agree. Sometimes it is best to just leave something as is, and not try to embellish.

Pappy said...

Daniel, your 69 observation reminds me of the more innocent days of my youth. The Beach Boys had a hit with "409" which has a line, "She's real fine, my 409," which some rascals in my class were singing "She's real fine, my 69." At first it baffled me. When I found out what it meant I...well...I started singing the song that way, also. I was late to the meanings of many dirty jokes, but when I became aware I could be as down with the naughty bits as my classmates. Something to be proud of!

Pappy said...

Brian, the story has gone around for years that Chester Gould was not fond of Al Capp satirizing Dick Tracy, especially when he collected money (like the book Ernol K. Sammybeans mentions in his comment). I think Gould saw it as a copyright violation, but whether or not he did anything about it I don't know, but doubt. As those of us old-time Mad fans learned from lawsuits aimed at Bill Gaines, parody is not considered stepping on someone's copyright.